Your husband comes home after a long day at work. You eat dinner together, and then he tells you he's going out with his friends for the evening. You're hurt. You've discussed this issue before, but it doesn't seem to go anywhere. He says he should have the freedom to hang out with his friends when he wants to. But that's not the real issue. For you, the problem is that you don't feel like you're getting enough time with him, and you wished he would reserve time for you, too.
If this situation sounds familiar, these other signs might, too:
You don't make any progress when discussing issues.
You talk about the same problems multiple times.
You aren't willing to compromise.
Discussing the problem leaves you feeling frustrated and hurt.
You feel rejected by your partner when trying to solve conflict.
Your problems have a deeper, underlying meaning.
You've become emotionally distant from your partner.
If you've seen this in your own relationship, you and your partner might be in gridlock. The first step to solving your gridlock is to figure out what type of problem you're dealing with - perpetual or solvable. Then you can move on to solving your gridlock:
Perpetual problems are an example of a gridlock situation (like your husband wanting to go out with friends and you wanting more time together). These types of problems are always present in some form, and have an underlying meaning. They must be handled with extra care and sensitivity to avoid hurting feelings.
A solvable conflict is surface level; it is simply about the issue.
If it's Perpetual
Marriage specialist Dr. John Gottman lists five things you can do to overcome this:
1. Become a dream detective
Think about your dreams; are they linked to certain problems? When you understand your inner desires, you will be able to communicate them to your partner.
2. Discuss the issue
Choose a gridlocked issue to work on. Take turns speaking and listening. This is not a time to blame, criticize or even solve the problem. Take this time just to share how you feel about the problem. As the listener, don't think of how to reply; just listen to understand.
3. Soothe one another
Take breaks if needed. Discussing gridlocked issues can be stressful, so remember to comfort one another.
4. End the gridlock
Make peace with the issue, and accept that you both have differences. Because the issue is perpetual, you probably won't be able to make it disappear completely. The goal is to remove the hurt so that the problem doesn't continue to cause pain. Come up with a temporary solution. Gottman suggests trying a solution for two months and then revisiting it. Discuss what worked and what didn't, and make any necessary changes.
5. Say "thank you"
Tell your spouse three things you appreciate them. They might be feeling vulnerable after sharing their dreams and making sacrifices to come to a solution, so remind them why you love them to lift their spirits.
If it's solvable
Solvable problems are not as severe as perpetual problems, but when ignored, it can turn perpetual,according to Gottman. Here's what you can do when you're faced with a solvable problem:
1. Define the problem
Understand what you both are discussing and be specific. Don't just say "The dirty dishes are getting out of hand." Instead, break down the problem: "The dishes are piled up by the sink, and there are a few dishes lying in the living room that get missed frequently."
2. Set a time
Reserve a time to discuss the issue. If you are tired or busy, you won't be in a mindset to come up with solutions, so set a time that works best for the both of you.
3. Analyze the problem
Review your problem, and then break it down even further. Discuss where the problem is now and where you want it to be. Work together to figure out where the problem stems from. With the dishes issue, maybe both of you have busy schedules. You might come home from work to find yourselves exhausted, so washing dishes isn't a priority. Dig deep into what might be causing the problem.
4. Determine your needs and wants
Write down what you need and want out of a solution. Maybe you want the dishes to be clean because a tidy home brings you peace. Maybe the dirty dishes embarrass you, so you want the dishes to be clean in order to help subside that feeling. When you're done writing, share this list with your partner. Make sure that both of you understand what each other desires from a solution.
5. Brainstorm possible solutions
Now it's time for a brainstorming session. No idea is a bad idea; jot down everything either of you suggests. Do not ridicule what the other person says- this will only cause more problems.
6. Determine the solution
After you've compiled a list, look through your solutions and pick one that you both feel comfortable with. Refer back to your lists of needs and wants. Try to choose a solution that fits what both of you wrote down.
7. Take action
Now that you have a solution, it's time to take action. Determine how long you will try this plan, and then reunite for a discussion. Talk about what worked and what didn't. You might find that you need to make adjustments, but that's OK. Change a few things and try again.
All couples experience conflict; that's just part of life. But we can strengthen our relationship by solving problems in the right way. For more information on how to solve problems in your relationship, read The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.